Despite some of the personal positives that came out of E3 this year, I am still left wanting with two games that were absent from the proceeding: Fable 4 and Dragon Age 4. The original Fable was there for me when things went south with me and Nintendo via Super Mario Galaxy. Dragon Age introduced me to a world like no other. Say what you may about the various highs and lows in each series, but both offered compelling gameplay surrounded by fantasy-driven plots that ranged from sweet and simple to complex and political. With nary a mention of either title at the biggest showcase of gaming anticipation of the year, my soul deflated.
But…why? I could easily go online and learn of whatever rumors and news may be out there in order to build up my hopes. I could also fill the gaps a little by playing the Fable and Dragon Age games that I have…which, in fact and despite my backlog, I started doing. With Dragon Age: Origins, that is. I recently started up a new playthrough with the goal of delving deep into the game’s lore. It’s something I’ve never really done before, having mostly ignored the game’s codex entries in favor of either picking them up here and there online or reading others’ interpretations of them. The process of learning about the history of Fereldan, its citizenry, its cultural, political, and religious structures has been enlightening, and it’s made me think about what it is that I want now from gaming.
One of the most significant takeaways has so far been that the lore in DA: O sets the foundation for the entire series. Please excuse the “Captain Obvious” sentiment, but I honestly didn’t know just how deeply the groundwork had been set for both Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition, and discovering such history for the first time has been really fascinating. From the tale of Fen’Harel to the Friends of Red Jenny, everything I’m learning in DA:O is helping to solidify the meanings behind the events, places, and people that populate the later games. I’m a big fan of “learning from the past to understand the present,” and it’s embarrassing to admit that I never saw fit to apply, if loosely, that notion to gaming. It may sound corny, but my deep dive into the lore of DA:O is actually making me more excited to replay its sequels than ever before.
There is where that question of what do I want now from gaming? has come into play. Over the years, my answer has changed. Early on, it was for the challenge — getting the highest score, seeing my initials on the leaderboard, obtaining bragging rights, and pitting my skills against others who claimed the same. Later, gaming became an escape. A place in which I could take refuge from the annoying and anxious outside world; a place where held full control over a domain I could call my own. Later still, gaming became a way to connect. Sure, the real world was no less terrible, but gaming helped me wade through the mire to forge everlasting connections to other passionate players. Today, I still carry these notions to some degree when playing, but what I really want from gaming these days is the opportunity to explore the depths of wisdom.
Okay, so that sounds a little pretentious. It’s not to take away from the fact that games, first and foremost, should be fun and engaging – I certainly don’t want to play a text book. I mean that I want a game to extol upon me the important role that I play within it. To make me wise to its ways. I could play a million other games besides Dragon Age: Origins, so DA:O, tell me why I should play YOU? Give me the reasons, the historical context, the educated means through which to understand why I should care about a non-existent place and its fictional people. The game’s artfully written codices read as actual writings of Ferdelen’s people – its storytellers and collectors of knowledge – which lends further to that important feeling of immersion.
Over the past year, I’ve unwittingly found myself knee-deep in lore-heavy games, from Fallout to Neverwinter to Dragon Age, and just recently with some prodding, The Elder Scrolls Online. Ignoring everything else I’ve promised to play (the list keeps growing!), I think I can finally admit to myself that I’m exactly where I need to be with gaming right now. From it, I want to learn, I want to grow, and I want to understand better the things that make a game’s world feel alive and necessary. I hold in the back of my mind what was once the unconscious impetus for doing so – prepping for what I hope will be the eventual releases of Fable 4 and Dragon Age 4 – because if that’s what got me here, then I’m rather pleased, for now, anyway.